By Erin

These are the episodes that embrace everything television can be as an art form.  Whether television as social satire, television as a substitute for film, television as shared experience, or television as small budget with big results.  These are the episodes that stand out to me over the last 10 years that I’ve been watching television shows.

1. “Two Cathedrals”—The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 22, Aired May 16, 2001. This was a no-brainer for me.  First you have a very talented actor, Martin Sheen, playing a president who loses a female friend and mentor shortly before he must announce whether or not he will run for a second term.  During this time of need, he must make a decision without her straight-shooting common sense.  The effective use of flashbacks develops his character, while a brilliantly shot scene in The National Cathedral proves both Sheen’s acting chops and Aaron Sorkin’s writing ones.  Watch President Bartlett argue with God in Latin then snuff his cigarette at the altar and tell me you don’t get goosebumps.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Cathedrals.

2. “Training”—The Office (UK), Season 1, Episode 4, Aired July 30, 2001. Why the U.S. version didn’t just copy this episode word-for-word I’ll never know (I realize it’s probably some type of copyright issue, but seriously, it’s that good).  The scene in which David Brent, played by a brilliantly awkward Ricky Gervais, gets his guitar out to sing his own original “Freelove Freeway” during a training that he isn’t supposed to be interfering in is fantastic in so many ways, not the least of which is when Gareth joins in at the end.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episode_Four_(The_Office,_Series_One).

3. “The Car Pool Lane”—Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 4, Episode 6, Aired February 8, 2004. It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite episode of Curb.  I haven’t watched a single episode and not laughed out loud.  In this episode, Larry buys pot, hires a hooker to get to the Dodgers game on time and gets high with her and his dad.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Curb_Your_Enthusiasm_episodes.  Also check out how this episode cleared a man accused of murder:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curb_Your_Enthusiasm#Juan_Catalan_incident.

4. “Hardball”—30 Rock, Season 1, Episode 15, Aired February 22, 2007. This episode stands a head above other fantastic 30 Rock episodes because of the way it highlights the hilarious brilliance of the top characters in the show.  Not only does Jack teach Liz how to be a better business woman with his “negotiation set” of furniture, but Jenna gets misquoted as hating the troops and then later says she actually supports Osama bin Laden for president and Kenneth has to be the only member of Tracy’s entourage until Grizz and Dot Com save him ala The Bodyguardhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_Ball.

5. “Walkabout”—Lost, Season 1, Episode 4, Aired October 13, 2004. This is the episode of Lost where we learn the flashbacks are going to be vital not only to develop the show’s characters but its plot and artistic merit as well.  Not only do we develop sympathy for John Locke, but we develop a healthy sense of fear of him as well.  We didn’t even realize how much we would need both.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkabout_(Lost).

6. “From Pole to Pole”—Planet Earth, Episode 1, Aired March 5, 2006. This whole series is so amazing to watch that it’s hard to pick a favorite episode, but this first one had a few things going for it:  1) It’s like broad survey course on the Earth, so if you’re only going to watch one, this is the one to watch; 2) It genuinely makes you want to do your part to stop global warming and help save the polar bears; and 3) Its sweeping shots of the Arctic, Antarctica, and Africa are so breathtaking that it makes the cost of buying it on Blue Ray worth every penny.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planet_Earth_(TV_series)#Episodes.

7. “The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby”—It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 3, Episode 1, Aired September 13, 2007. This is another comedy that is excellent because all three subplots are funny on their own.  While Dennis tries to get revenge on environmentalists for calling him a poser, Dee and Dennis attempt to put a baby in a tanning booth to make him look more Hispanic in order to get him into acting, and Charlie and Frank discover treasures through dumpster diving.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_It’s_Always_Sunny_in_Philadelphia_episodes.

8. “Both Sides Now”—House, Season 5, Episode 24, Aired May 11, 2009. Honestly, most episodes of House are good simply because of Hugh Laurie’s acting skills and their parallel to Sherlock Holmes.  This episode stands out in my mind because Laurie steps it up a notch due to Dr. House’s being so addicted to Vicodin that he starts having hallucinations.  When House realizes he imagined an entire 24 hour period, it’s hard not to feel his terror.  Only Hugh Laurie could make you sympathize with such a despicable character.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Both_Sides_Now_(House).

9. “Good Grief”—Arrested Development, Season 2, Episode 4, Aired December 5, 2004. Any television show that alludes to Peanuts is top notch in my book, but when this fantastic ensemble cast and writing staff does it, well it’s a top episode of the decade.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Grief.

10. “We’ve Got Spirit”—Freaks and Geeks, Episode 9, Aired January 24, 2000. Like most episodes of this cult classic, this one epitomizes the high school experience but to a better soundtrack.  This episode is reminiscent of pep rallies and rivalries as well as awkward first relationships.  It’s also full of young acting talent including Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, James Franco, and even a young Shia LeBeouf.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Freaks_and_Geeks_episodes.

11. “The Godmother”—Weeds, Season 1, Episode 10, Aired October 10, 2005. Weeds was a great idea for a lampoon of suburban living and the American Dream.  For my money, this is the episode that takes full advantage of great satire without letting overly dramatic scenes get in the way. The conversation between Andy, played by Justin Kirk, and Doug, played by a riotous Kevin Nealon, regarding Andy’s impending deployment demonstrated the show’s potential for biting comedy.  Also, any show smart enough to cast Mary-Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins deserves a spot on this list.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Weeds_episodes.

12. “Hunting Trip”—Parks and Recreation, Season 2, Episode 10, Aired November 19, 2009. I love Amy Poehler.  I know, I know, who doesn’t?  But seriously, the scene in this episode where she lists all the female stereotypes she can think of to explain why she accidentally shot Ron Swanson to cover up for Tom had me laughing nonstop.  It’s nice to have some hilarious ladies leading some hilarious sitcoms.  We also get a funny subplot with Andy and April.  This show is only going to get better, but they got this episode in before the end of the decade.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunting_Trip.

13. “Slap Bet”—How I Met Your Mother, Season 2, Episode 9, Aired November 20, 2006. Despite the fact that this show is just the upper-class version of Friends and uses a laugh track (a laugh track!), it has some standout episodes.  This is one of them.  Jason Segel (Marshall) and Neil Patrick Harris (Barney) steal the episode from a pretty dull Ted (I don’t even care who plays this guy, he just brings the show down) by placing a “slap bet” on why Robin is scared of malls.  The winner gets to slap the loser as hard as he can, and due to trickery on Barney’s part, Marshall ends up getting to slap him five times whenever he chooses in the future.  The writers give something for their viewers to look forward to and reward loyalty every time Marshall slaps Barney (I think he still has one slap left).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slap_Bet.

14. “Endless Shrimp, Endless Night”—The New Adventures of Old Christine, Season 2, Episode 26, Aired January 15, 2007. When I tried to describe this episode to my mom, I started laughing so hard that I couldn’t get the words out.  I dare you to watch Julia Louis-Dreyfus substitute the word “lobster” for “lost her” due to her obsession with Red Lobster and not laugh.  Not to mention Hamish Linklater, who plays her brother Matthew, makes an excellent straight man to her crazy woman (she also makes a great straight woman when he’s playing the crazy man).    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_New_Adventures_of_Old_Christine_episodes.

15. “A Tale of Poes and Fire”—Gilmore Girls, Season 3, Episode 18, Aired April 15, 2003. The fictional town of Stars Hollow had a lot of quirky and entertaining characters due to the imagination of Amy Sherman-Palladino.  This episode showcases these characters as well as Lauren Graham’s quick tongue and classic Gilmore Girls obscure references.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Gilmore_Girls_episodes.

Honorable Mentions:

“Made in America”—The Sopranos, Season 6, Episode 21, Aired June 10, 2007. I haven’t seen one episode of The Sopranos, this one included.  However, the writers did such a great job ending the series that even those of us who weren’t fans know about the ending.  Did Tony die or live?  We’ll never know, and that is television as shared experience like very few others have accomplished.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Made_in_America_(The_Sopranos).

“Seinfeld”—Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 7, Episode 10, Aired November 22, 2009. I haven’t been lucky enough to see this yet (I think I’m getting the season for Christmas).  I assume it will become one of the top episodes of the decade, but for now, I’ll give it an honorable mention.  Even my grandparents were wondering when the Seinfeld reunion was airing.  Only Larry David could give us a reunion without actually giving us one (and almost get my grandparents to watch a HBO original series).  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seinfeld_(Curb_Your_Enthusiasm).

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